Impossible Dumplings and Beyond Buns: Will China Buy Fake Meat?

Jan 07, 2020 · 58 comments
Independent Observer (Texas)
I can't imagine eating anything but pork or shrimp/pork in my Shanghai dumplings, but I also don't know what will work in China. Somehow, I kind of doubt they'll go for it. They've already got a well-established tofu market that's relatively inexpensive, so why would they have a need for this?
Walter Pu (Victoria BC)
@Independent Observer Beef tomato dumpling is actually quite good. Dumplings imported from China to Canada has to be completely vegetarian, it’s actually not that bad. Tofu meat is not very healthy, most importantly, make dumplings as an example, can you imagine dumplings made by tofu meat? Not to mention stir-fry dishes, it’s impossible to make for example green peppers with pork( a super famous cuisine almost every Chinese like) using tofu meat.
Backbutton (CT)
Ain't nothing like the real thing, baby. In a country with a well-developed cuisine and palate, over the thousands of years, where meat is deemed precious......and its use refined, and where being wealthy enough to eat meat had been an aspiration in the past, and where tofu was invented? Well, maybe, if this fake stuff was cheaper than dirt, or tofu, or more expensive than diamonds, as a novelty.
Samuel Russell (Newark, NJ)
It's funny, because I've been eating fake meat at Chinese restaurants for decades, long before it became popular in American culture. I don't think Chinese people will have a problem with it, as long as they can get over the "status" issues. In fact, when a person is truly prosperous and confident, they learn to look beyond their own narrow appetites and understand the needs of others and the importance of compassion. Anything that can reduce the practice of rounding up stray dogs and skinning them alive for their meat should be a top priority, and I do hope the majority of the evolving Chinese population comes to realize how cruel and wrong that is, as well as the enormous environmental impacts of beef and pork production.
Nadia (San Francisco)
I've had an Impossible Burger. Two, actually. The first one out of curiosity, the second one because I was sick and thought fake meat was probably OK. The thing is pretty good. But not really any more healthy. More calories, etc. Look it up. I understand why factory farming practices upsets people. But the solution is not to eliminate animals that we eat from the face of the earth. Because the planet would be over-run with these animals if we quit eating them. There are more of them than there are of us. Is it better to have zillions of cows roaming around than to enjoy a hamburger? Wild pigs? Just ask anyone in a state currently infested with them about how that's working out. And why isn't anyone upset about people eating rattlesnakes?
RB (Korea)
Like selling coal to Newcastle. We lived in China for many years, and we could not help but thinking that every time we ate something labelled as "meat", we were actually eating some concoction that cleverly disguised something else as meat. Yes, every bite made us ask, "Does this seem a little off to you?" And I recall the interesting case of the street vendor who figured out a way to grind up rats, mix them with some chemicals and spices and sell it as ground lamb! So, fake meat is hardly a new thing in China. Just depends on how you define it.
Pedro (Buffalo)
China has been on meat alternatives for millennia, the west just recently is catching up with it.
Uscdadnyc (Queens NY)
I am a Proud member of P.E.T.A. (People Eating Tasty Animals). Now I can be a member of another PETA (People Eating Tasty Analogy(ies)). At least there are more Foods (real and artificial) that I can grill on my Outdoor Grills. You won't have to pry my "Dead Cold Hands" from my (Gas and Charcoal) Grills. :) :) :)
Meredith (Indianapolis)
Two concerns about efforts to woo China into accepting plant based meats (he current chilly trade relationship notwithstanding).... First, the Chinese are already attempting to do this at home, will probably steal technology they don't already use to perfect their own meat synthesis, and Chinese consumers will favor products made in their country (savings, familiar seasonings, textures, etc). US companies are already up against some stiff competition before they get their foot in the door. Second, assuming US-made meats catch on in China, some foods US farmers successfully marketed to the Chinese have become prohibitively expensive to USA residents. Just 1 case comes to mind (being native of a pecan state) - pecans. These used to be affordable native food, with varieties of flavors, aromas, and textures depending on where grown. Pecans successfully marketed to China are now grown in masse with uniform size (as preferred by Chinese), much less variety & flavor ( Now pecans are very expensive in the US - only a luxurious treat mostly for gift giving. By making feaux meats more expensive by increasing demand overseas will compromise the very [supposed] goal of these companies: to reduce meat consumption here in the USA.
BWB (Sterling Virginia)
Hopefully they'll work on a plant based product that will replace dog. I can't bear looking at the photos of the dogs before they go to slaughter.
GH (New York)
“Every time someone in China eats a piece of meat, a little puff of smoke goes up in the Amazon,” Mr. Brown said. “It is an absolutely essential and extremely important market for us.” Really Mr. Brown?? Can you make it sound any more dramatic and insulting?
Samuel Russell (Newark, NJ)
@GH What's insulting about a true fact? I'm insulted that people are destroying my planet, not that it's being called out in an article.
Paul F (Canada)
@Samuel Russell Who eats more meat? Americans or Chinese?
bringing new meaning to that fun old term, “tube steak”
Bo Lang (Brooklyn)
I was in China in 1981 and had the best fake meat I ever had. Many Chinese are devout Buddhists and vegetarians. Americans don't need to tell them how to make fake meat. Ridiculous arrogance.
Backbutton (CT)
@Bo Lang: You mean the stuff we've been eating for thousands of years have been recently discovered and re-invented?
“China” does not consume any meat. It is a legal and political entity, with no digestive system. People in China consume meat, of course, but the average person in China consumes less than half the amount of meat as the average American. Let’s please stop treating “China” as a monolithic entity. I am all in favor of private companies developing and marketing new products in a free market, but am disturbed by people blaming environmental overconsumption problems on “China” when they are consuming far more than the average person in China. There is far more room to reduce meat consumption in the highest per-capita consumers, namely the US and other rich countries.
WL (New York)
Um. There is a centuries-long (or longer) tradition of excellent "fake meat" in Chinese cuisine that arose out of the Buddhist vegetarian diet. The best plant-based meat substitutes I've ever tasted were in East Asia. Any grocery store and most restaurants and food stalls include a dazzling array of foods made from wheat gluten, tofu or other soy-based products, and other kinds of plant protein. The idea that Impossible Foods and Beyond Burger are introducing a new concept to China is absurd.
Walter Pu (Victoria BC)
@WL yeah you’re right but that’s quite expensive, because you need good cook to make it. It has to be made in kitchen instead of factory I believe. There was an old lady selling fake meat in my neighbour when I was little, I love her food but it’s actually much more expensive than actual meat. Also, Chinese fake meat tastes good because it uses large amounts of oil and sauces, it’s not really some healthy food, that’s probably why we see many overweight monk in China. They are really two kinds of food, don’t worth for comparison.
Ing (US)
Anything that will help stop the consumption of dogs and cats in China I am all for, or any other animals for that matter. The sodium levels in the Impossible and Beyond plant based meats restrict my giving them a try due to a health condition but for others it is a great start to becoming more of a plant based eater.
MrX (London)
@Ing Most people don't eat dog, and IIRC cat is not legal in China, this shows poor understanding of Chinese culture. China has a massive history of alternates to meat, and honestly their options beat any fake meats I've eaten in the UK. If you eat meat in China, you can usually tell what meat it is, they won't be buying fake meat unless it has the exact same texture and flavour as the real thing, otherwise you just eat the alternatives that already exist!
summer (HKG)
@MrX wrote "Most people don't eat dog, and IIRC cat is not legal in China, this shows poor understanding of Chinese culture...." If the Communist Chinese follow the law, how do you explain the "Mystery Pneumonia-Like Illness" in Wuhan? It sounds like that you don't understand the Communist Chinese. I hope you understand mandarin to watch the video.
pmd (Massachusetts)
Hmmm, now I can’t wait to try making won ton soup with a Beyond Burger filling. I have to say, though, it was a little tone deaf that they had sliders etc at the trade show. For all the money the company put into this they couldn’t hire one food consultant to advise them about the Chinese market?
Nacho (Vancouver)
These products went viral over social media and people’s Instagram stories when they could try their first one at Fast food chains. I think people in the article underestimate the Chinese markets same love for influencers and trends in their own country and there is a big space to open people up to the idea of at least trying and if they can put some status behind it at first. I mean they are like $9 for a couple patties at whole foods they are a status food here as well.
Kumar Aiyer (New Jersey)
Beyond and Impossible are trying hard to create a market for plant based protein foods in the US. Very commendable from sustainability perspective. However making inroads into Asian cultures especially Chinese or Indian dinner tables will be daunting given the long legacy of vegeratrian based proteins in both those cultures.
Ramsey (San Francisco)
Eating a plant-based diet is not only beneficial to the environment and the world's resources, healthy and delicious, it also helps the billions of individuals--farmed animals--who endure nightmarish lives and deaths to be made into food. Fortunately, young people in China and around the world are waking up to the importance of animal protection, and they are leaving meat off their plates, be it cow meat, pig meat, chickens, fish, or dogs. There is a global revolution in how humans view the complex and rich lives of animals. Stopping eating our fellow earthlings is the most important social justice movement of our time.
Nadia (San Francisco)
@Ramsey OK, Then what are we supposed to do with all the cows we already have?
@Ramsey I think it depends on the type of meat. Cows are treated a lot better than chickens and a single cow can feed a lot of humans. Also most cows would not even exist if not for meat and dairy. It’s also questionable whether fish can feel pain. So I’m okay ethically with eating beef or fish although would try to limit quantities, but try to avoid chicken or pork where possible.
Joan Bee (Seattle)
@Nadia Stop breeding them for starters.
Rod (Robinstein)
That link in the article about China's traditional vegetarian/fake-meat cuisines is definitely worth checking out.
MGC (Arizona)
Stop using phrases like "plant-based meat" which is marketing gibberish. Call it what it is: "pattie" or "processed meat substitute".
MSal (Arizona)
@MGC Taking that tack, shouldn't fast-food establishments refer to their hamburgers as "processed grain and meat patties"? What's the acceptable ratio of fillers and non-meat ingredients to actual flesh before a "pattie" can be called a "hamburger"?
J111111 (Toronto)
Red state America could have easily bailed out the Trump trade soybean emergency and saved patriotic American farmers by eating tofu. Didn't happen.
Nadia (San Francisco)
@J111111 Probably has something to do with the fact that tofu is disgusting.
Eve Delaunay (Illinois)
China has had plant based meat for decades. However a lot of it are shaped like ham that you can slice or fish balls. The average family also doesn’t eat burgers for dinner, so a meat patty may not be the best shape. The company using the 3D printer seemed like the most interesting one. If they had 3D printed chicken wings and drumsticks people would be all over that. Heck I’d be too.
Nadia (San Francisco)
@Eve Delaunay What? The idea of eating anything anything 3'd printed, or anything wrapped around it, is entirely and thoroughly revolting.
Am Brown (Windsor)
Cant find these in Spain yet!
J (FL)
As someone who gave up meat over 10 years ago, these products were a bit too similar to the real thing for me. I wish more meat lovers would try them to help their transition to a more sustainable diet.
Erich Richter (San Francisco CA)
These are first steps to something that will ultimately revolutionize global food production in enourmously positive ways. Yes it is a simulation but what isn't in the 21st century? My gut reaction is that it is and will remain cloaked in industry secrets the same way convenience foods are, and that the nutritional value will be compromised by all sorts of chemical additives needed to make it taste and feel like the real thing. But surely some one of these companies will come up with a formula that is acceptable.
Tuvw Xyz (Evanston, Illinois)
I do not like boiled dumplings, be they Chinese, Russian (pelmeni) or German (Maultaschen), but only fried. Any meat can be put in dumplings, for those who avoid pork flesh for esthetic reasons, as I do.
John OBrienj (NYC)
I had my first meatless, plant-based burger at Burger King yesterday and it was delicious. Tasted the same as a meat-based Whopper. I know it will never replace real beef, but diversity in our food is important for our health and our environment.
Country Girl (Rural PA)
I still eat some meat, but love plant-based foods and have been eating them for years. I actually prefer "veggie burgers" to the real thing. No fat lumps or tiny pieces of bone and they're easier to chew and digest. When I began eating them, it was because I had a weight problem. Now that my weight is perfect, I continue to consume plant-based proteins to maintain my ideal BMI,
JenD (NJ)
@Country Girl I've been eating veggie burgers for years, too. Unfortunately, the Beyond Meat burger made me horribly ill within an hour of eating it. Anyone else experience this? I am reluctant to try their products again.
John (LINY)
Well they have added Formica to milk. Why not?
JenD (NJ)
@John I think you mean melamine, if you are referring to the baby formula scandal a few years ago.
Flame and Ice (Connecticut)
The title of the article is quite insulting to Chinese. China has a tradition of plant based meat. It is not a Western invention. Buddhists there have been creating and eating delicious plant based imitation of meat dishes for more than a thousand years. Maybe that is why they are not that eager to try Impossible Foods' product.
Nabster (Long Island, NY)
@Flame and Ice - I agree with you on that. Add the quote “Every time someone in China eats a piece of meat, a little puff of smoke goes up in the Amazon,” Mr. Brown said. Good luck with that condescension. Granted that majority of meat imports come from South America unlike the US, but the per capita meat consumption rate is not comparable.
JenD (NJ)
@Flame and Ice That was my response, too. I have been enjoying seitan/gluten-based dishes in Chinese restaurants and at home for years.
JenD (NJ)
@Nabster That quote stopped me cold. I was thinking, "Condescension will get you nowhere".
Victoria Gerken (Boston)
The Chinese are already eating meat substitutes - cardboard cooked with stock and put inside “pork” dumplings is one example of rampant food fraud, rat dressed as mutton is another ... but good to know they have lots of regulators for new food products and are worried about GMOs. I think the cost to consumers of these non-meat meats is what will hold them back in China - and the US. A 1lb package of minced “beef” is 9.99 at my supermarket while the real thing is half that.
John OBrienj (NYC)
@Victoria Gerken Really? Any proof that your really wild claims are true? If so, please pass on the evidence.
Margo (Atlanta)
John, Google is your friend in researching adulterated food products in China. In fact, it is so notorious that I was outraged when our Congress voted to removed country of origin labelling on food products under the Obama WH. It was done as one of the many sly steps to help make TPP slide into place. Check where your Oreos are coming from now - it's not the USA. Globalism is not always a good thing.
dc (Earth)
About 1 million pigs have recently been culled in China due to swine fever, and anyone who thinks that won't happen again is delusional. I suspect diseases like swine fever will only increase as China's factory farming does. I'm betting Chinese consumers come around to plant-based meat sooner rather than later.
Retired Hard Worker (USA)
And if you watched 60 minutes the other day, you will realize that with reduced or “self” oversight of the pork industry in the US, vege based meals may be the only safe alternative.
Quinn (Massachusetts)
Making and selling plant-based "meat" is expensive and difficult as it should be. Making tofu, a plant-based protein, is easy and inexpensive. Why would China want American plant-based "meat"? Why should anyone want these products? Learn how to cook your plants. They can be delicious.
Lauren (Philadelphia)
I’m a tofu loving vegan and share your views on learning to cook plants. In my view, the Beyond brand and Impossible foods demonstrates to omnivores that plant based meats can be just like the real thing, thereby removing the hurdle of having to “give up” certain favorite foods when going vegan. Think of them like faux fur. Plus, they make a nice occasional treat for vegans that enjoy them.
Rock On (Seattle)
@Quinn Because, as it states in the article, the ability to put meat on the table is a status symbol. Kind of like car ownership.
Hmmm (Seattle)
@Quinn Not everyone wants all that soy in their diets...tofu is not for all.
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